Amsterdam’s centre is fairly small, and almost abnormally flat, so you can easily get to most tourist destinations on foot – from the train station, within half an hour.
Public Transits includes:
- Rental Boat
- Rental Scooter
Amsterdam has one of the largest historic city centres in Europe, with about 7,000 registered historic buildings. The street pattern has been largely unchanged since the 19th century — there was no major bombing during World War II. The center consists of 90 islands linked by 400 bridges, some of them beautifully lit at night.
The inner part of the city centre, the Old Centre, dates from medieval times. The oldest streets are the Warmoesstraat and the Zeedijk located in the Nieuwmarkt area of the Old Centre. As buildings were made of wood in the Middle Ages, not much of this period’s buildings have survived. Two medieval wooden houses did survive though, at Begijnhof 34 and Zeedijk 1. Other old houses are Warmoesstraat 83 (built around 1400), Warmoesstraat 5 (around 1500) and Begijnhof 2-3 (around 1425). The Begijnhof is a late-medieval enclosed courtyard with the houses of beguines, Roman Catholic women living in a semi-religious community. Beguines are found in Northern France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and north-western Germany. House number 34 at the Begijnhof is the oldest home in Amsterdam. Entry to the courtyard and surrounding gardens is free, but be careful not to disturb the local community still living here.
One of the most prominent features is the Canal Ring, a concentric ring of canals built in the 17th century. The merchant-based oligarchy that ruled the trading city of Amsterdam built canal houses and mansions in the most prestigious locations here, especially along the main canals. Typical for the country are its traditional white draw bridges. The best example has to be the Magere Brug in the Canal Ring, which is over 300 years old and nearly in its original capacity. It is a beautiful place to overlook the river and take in some traditional Dutch architecture.
The Jordaan was built around 1650 along with the Canal Ring, but not for the wealthy merchants. For a long time it was considered the typical working-class area of Amsterdam, and included some notorious slums. The name probably derives from the nickname ‘Jordan’ for the Prinsengracht. Apart from a few wider canals, the streets are narrow, in an incomplete grid pattern (as the grid followed the lines of the former polders located here in medieval times). This district is the best example of “gentrification” in the Netherlands, as recently it turned into a hip boutique district.
There are several large warehouses for more specific uses. The biggest is the Admirality Arsenal (1656-1657), now the Maritime Museum (Scheepvaartmuseum) at Kattenburgerplein. Others include the former turf warehouses (1550) along the Nes, now the municipal pawn office; a similar warehouse at Waterlooplein 69-75 (Arsenaal, 1610), now an architectural academy, and the warehouse of the West India Company (1642) at the corner of Prins Hendrikkade and ‘s-Gravenhekje. The city office for architectural heritage, BMA, has an excellent online introduction to the architectural history and the types of historical buildings available. The website includes a cycle route along important examples. There are also several warehouse galleries in Amsterdam Noord, including Nieuw Dakota, a young gallery space for contemporary art.
Windmills were not built in urban areas, since the surrounding buildings obstructed the wind too much. The Amsterdam windmills were all originally outside its city walls. There are a total of eight windmills in Amsterdam, and most of them are in West. However, the best one to visit is De Gooyer, which is not far from the city centre, and is being used as a brewery for you to enjoy. The only windmill fully open to the public is the Molen van Sloten in Sloten, a former village now part of West.
Churches and synagogues
Since the Middle Ages and throughout the 17th century, the Netherlands was a country with a relatively high degree of freedom and tolerance towards other religions and cultures, especially compared to other countries in Europe. Between 1590 and 1800, the estimated foreign-born population was never less than 5 percent, many of them settling in Amsterdam. This led to a large diaspora of Jews, Huguenots (French protestants), Flemish, Poles and other peoples in the city. Especially the Jewish have always had a large presence in Amsterdam, notably in the Old Jewish Quarter (though this quarter has been in a status of decay since World War II). The most prominent synagogue is The Esnoga (or The Portuguese Synagogue) , built in 1675 in an austere Classicist style.
As the Netherlands was a protestant nation, most of the churches are from this branch of Christianity. Some of the most notable churches:
- Oude Kerk (1306) Located on the Oudezijds Voorburgwal, in the red-light district. The oldest of the five main churches in the historic centre. You can climb the tower from April to September on Saturday & Sunday, every half-hour – but make sure you either do that early or stop by to book a climb in the morning, it could be sold out by the end of the day. Also open in the winter by group appointment (maximum 10 people) cost €70 per hour. (mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.
- Nieuwe Kerk (15th century) Located on Dam Square. Used for royal coronations, most recently the crowning of King Willem-Alexander in 2013, and royal weddings, most recently the wedding of crown prince Willem-Alexander to princess Máxima in 2002. Today, the church is no longer used for services but is now a popular exhibition space.
- Zuiderkerk (built 1603-1611) Located on Zuiderkerkhof (“Southern Graveyard”) square. Now an information centre on housing and planning. You can visit the tower from April to September Monday to Saturday (with guide only) every half-hour, cost €6. Also open in the winter by group appointment (maximum 15 people) cost €70 per hr. (mailto:email@example.com) for more information.
- Noorderkerk (built 1620-1623) Located on Noordermarkt on the Prinsengracht.
- Westerkerk (built 1620-1631) Located on Westermarkt near the Anne Frank House. The church is open (free) for visitors from Monday to Friday, 11AM-3PM, from April to September. You can also climb the tower (with guide only) every half-hour, Mon to Saturday €7.50 (2013). This is 6-person-at-a-time journey, thus the amount of visitors per day is limited – make sure you do the climb (or book it) in early hours. The tower is also open in the winter by group appointment (maximum 10 people) cost €70 per hr. (mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information. In good weather you can see all of Amsterdam, and as far as the coast.
The late-medieval city also had smaller chapels such as the Sint Olofskapel (circa 1440) on Zeedijk, and convent chapels such as the Agnietenkapel on the Oudezijds Voorburgwal 231 (originally 1470), now the University of Amsterdam museum. Later churches included the Oosterkerk (1669) in the eastern islands, and the heavily restored Lutheran Church on the Singel (1671), now used by a hotel as a conference centre. Catholic churches were long forbidden, and built again only in the 19th-century: the most prominent is the Neo-Baroque Church of St. Nicholas (1887) opposite Central Station.
Also, investigate some of the “hidden churches” found in Amsterdam, mainly Catholic churches that remained in activity following the Reformation. A prominent hidden church is Amstelkring Museum (Our Lord in the Attic Chapel) Well worth the visit. Two hidden churches still in use are the Begijnhofchapel near the Spui, and the Papegaaikerk in the Kalverstreet (both Catholic).
Amsterdam has an amazing collection of museums, ranging from masterpieces of art to porn, vodka and cannabis. The most popular ones can get very crowded in the summer peak season, so it’s worth exploring advance tickets or getting there off-peak (eg. very early in the morning). Some of the quality museums that you can’t miss:
- Rijksmuseum — absolutely top-class museum that has a large collection of paintings from the Dutch Golden Age. Some artists you can’t overlook are Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer, Frans Hals and Jan Steen. The must-sees are Rembrandt’s Night Watch and Vermeer’s Milkmaid. The museum also boasts a substantial collection of Asian art. The Rijksmuseum was under heavy construction until early 2013, but has re-opened in full capacity on the 14th of april, 2013.
- Van Gogh Museum — even someone with little knowledge of art must have heard about Vincent van Gogh, the Dutch Post-Impressionist painter whose work had a far-reaching influence on 20th century art for its vivid colors and emotional impact. This museum has the largest collection of Van Gogh’s paintings and drawings in the world. A hint: you can book a ticket online and skip the cashier line.
- Anne Frank House — dedicated to Anne Frank, a Jewish girl who kept a diary while hiding from Nazi persecution in hidden rooms at the rear of the building (known as the Achterhuis). It’s an exhibition on the life of Anne Frank, but also highlights other forms of persecution and discrimination. Mind that there could be quite a line in the evening/weekends in summer.
The other museums are described in the district articles.
The Museum Card (Museumkaart) costs €54.95 (or €27.50 for those under 18 years old) plus a one-off €4.95 subscription fee. It covers the cost of admission to over 400 museums across the Netherlands and you can buy it at most major museums. It is valid for an entire year, and you will need to write your name, birthday, and gender on it. If you are going to the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum, €17.50 and €15 respectively, this card can quickly pay for itself. Another advantage of having this card is that you can visit the same museum twice at no extra cost (for example Rijksmuseum is so huge you may want to spread it over two visits), or try out museums you’re not sure you will like. The tickets to the major museums, including the audio guide, can be bought early from the tourist information desk at no extra cost. Alternatively, for short stays, you can consider buying the I amsterdam card’, starting at €42 per day, which includes “free” access to Amsterdam museums, public transport and discount on many tourist attractions.
The locals spend their summer days in Amsterdam opening a red wine in the Vondelpark — and so should you. Every district in Amsterdam has at least one park, but the Vondelpark in South stands out for its size and convivial atmosphere. The neighbourhood best known for its greenery is the Plantage. Besides its leafy boulevards and grand mansions, it also features the botanical gardens of the Hortus Botanicus. Finally, Artis Zoo is a good attraction for the kids.
A more recent tradition is the opening of so-called city beaches. Yes, it’s now possible to lay in the sand far from any natural coastline! Amsterdam counts three of these beaches, which are located in West, East and South. The one in East is probably the best one, and you get the fine architecture and atmosphere of the IJburg neighbourhood included for free.
Red Light District
The Red Light District consists of several canals, and the side streets between them, south of Central Station and east of Damrak. Known as ‘De Wallen’ (the quays) in Dutch, because the canals were once part of the city defences (walls and moats). Prostitution itself is limited to certain streets, mainly side streets and alleys, but the district is considered to include the canals, and some adjoining streets (such as Warmoesstraat and Zeedijk). The whole area has a heavy police presence, and many security cameras. Nevertheless it is still a residential district and has many bars and restaurants, and also includes historic buildings and museums — this is the oldest part of the city. The oldest church in Amsterdam, the Netherlands-gothic Oude Kerk on the Oudezijds Voorburgwal at Oudekerksplein, is now surrounded by window prostitution. The area has many sex shops and peep show bars.This section of town is a common attraction for bachelors celebrating a stag night, if you ever get hassled, a firm and loud “Leave me alone” will work most of the time.
Modern architecture is under-represented in Amsterdam (as opposed to Rotterdam), but as the outer districts were built in the 19th and 20th centuries, there is definitely some to be found. Immediately outside the Singelgracht (the former city moat) is a ring of 19th-century housing. The most prominent buildings from this period are the Central Station (1889) and the Rijksmuseum (1885), both by P. J. H. Cuypers. Amsterdam West, especially the neighborhood De Baarsjes, was built in the Amsterdam School and New Objectivity architectural styles from the 19th century. A completely different approach to architecture has been the Bijlmer, built in the 1970s and forseen as a town of the future for upper-middle class families. Large apartment buildings and relatively large rooms were combined with common grass fields and a separation of pedestrian and car traffic. It has been a revolutionary way of thinking in the architectural world, but eventually the neighborhood turned into a lower-class residential district home to people of over 150 nationalities, and it is often associated with crime and robberies. It has improved remarkably the last years though, and adventurous travelers might be interested to know more about the history of this bizarre district.
Since there was little large-scale demolition in the historic centre, most 20th-century and recent architecture is outside it. The most prominent in architectural history are the residential complexes by architects of the Amsterdam School, for instance at Zaanstraat / Oostzaanstraat.
- Museum of the Amsterdam School. The best-known example of their architecture. Open Tuesday to Sunday 11AM to 5PM, entrance €7.50, includes 20 min. guided tour.
- Eastern Docklands. The largest concentration of new residential buildings. The zone includes three artificial islands: Borneo, Sporenburg, and KNSM/Java-island. The latter has been built as a postmodern interpretation of the old canal belt. Across from it, is the brand new Piet Heinkade, and some adjoining projects. Accessible by tram 10, tram 26 to Rietlandpark, or best of all by bicycle.
- The largest concentration of box-like office buildings is in Amsterdam Zuid-Oost (South-East) around Bijlmer station (train and metro), but the area does have some spectacular buildings, such as the Amsterdam ArenA stadium and the new Bijlmer ArenA station.
- Amsterdam is replacing older sewage plants by a single modern plant, in the port zone. Connecting existing sewers to the new plant requires long main sewers, and the use of sewage booster pumps – a new technique at this scale. The new booster pump stations are a unique type of building, designed by separate architects. The three complete pumps are located at Klaprozenweg in the north, on Spaklerweg (just east of the A10 motorway), and beside and under Postjesweg, in the Rembrandtpark.
- EYE Film Institute is a futuristic building designed by Delugan Meissl Associated Architects and houses the film museum, cinema, shop and a good restaurant / cafe with a great view over the IJ river (IJ is also pronounced as eye). On the outside this white steel building reminds people of a bird, a plane or a space ship. On the inside it has modern design with a vintage feel and lots of wood, giving it a cozy vibe. A gem for architecture enthusiasts, photographers, film fans and foodies alike. Accessible by the frequent, free ferry from Central Station to ‘Buiksloterweg’ in only 5 minutes.
Several companies offer private tours by car, van, or mini bus for groups of up to 8 people. Bike tours are also available at a more affordable price, and offer a more authentic Dutch experience.
- Other companies offer canal cruises, usually lasting from one to two hours. Departures from: Prins Hendrikkade opposite Centraal Station; quayside Damrak; Rokin near Spui; Stadhouderskade 25 near Leidseplein.
- The Canal Bus. Runs three fixed routes, stopping near major attractions (Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank’s House, etc.). You can get on or off as often as you like, but it is expensive, €20 per person per 24 hr. The first boats start between 9.15AM. and 10.45AM. depending on which stop you get on. The last boats start dropping off at around 7 p.m.
- Lovers Canal Cruise start opposite the Rijksmuseum. It is €15 per person, but you cannot get on and off. The cruise is about 1 hr 30 min.
- Amsterdam Boat Guide Local company offering private boat tours in classic boats. Canal cruises, dinner cruises etc.
- Amsterdam Jewel Cruises offers an evening dinner cruise. It is the only classic boat offering a private table for a romantic dinner cruise. A la carte dining, but not cheap! The cruise starts at 7.30 pm and lasts just under three hours.
- You can cruise the canals yourself, without the commentary with a canal bike (pedal boat) or rented boat.
- Boaty Rental Boats. Boaty offers rental boats (max. 6 persons) for your own private tour: decide where to go yourself or choose one of Boaty’s free canal routes. These rental boats are electrically driven which means they are silent and free of exhaust fumes. They are charged with renewable energy every night so you can enjoy your time on the water as long as you like. The boats are very stable, unsinkable and of course the rental is accompanied by free life vests in different sizes.
- Canal Company. Has four rental locations; two-seater canal bikes cost €8 per person per hour.
- Venetian Gondola. You can also rent a gondola, hand made by an Amsterdam girl who traveled to Venice to learn the craft and build her own Gondola which she brought back to Amsterdam.
- Watch a movie at one of the over 55 cinemas.
Amsterdam for free
- A day in Amsterdam without spending a penny: stroll along the canals, see the Begijnhof, smell the flowers at the Bloemenmarket, visit the Albert Cuypstraat market, see the Magere Brug and relax in the Vondelpark.
- Diamond factories in Amsterdam offer free guided tours, such as at Gassan Diamonds and Coster Diamonds.
- The Eye film museum has an interesting free permanent exhibition in the basement.
- Ferry over the River IJ The GVB ferries that run on the north side of central station are free of charge and provide nice views of the harbor and skyline
- Free lunch concerts are held at the:
- The Royal Concertgebouw (Het Koninklijk Concertgebouw), Concertgebouwplein 10 (Tram 3,5,12,16,24), ☎ 0031 20 6718345,. -. World famous for amazing acoustics, beautiful architecture and being home to The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Concerts are scheduled almost daily and are performed by the world’s best musicians, orchestras and conductors. There is a free lunchtime concert every Wednesday at 12.30pm (September-June). Consider taking a guided tour to explore the building’s amazing architecture. The guided tour comes highly recommended: English-spoken, €10, approx. 75 minutes. scheduled on Sun-12.30pm, Mon-5pm, Wed-1.30 pm. -. (52.356309,4.879060)
- Het muziektheater Holds a free lunch concert at Tuesdays.
- MuziekGebouw aan’t IJ This theatre has a free concert once a month (every second Tuesday at 12:30PM).
- Ignatiushuis Every Tuesday at 12:30. Entrance at Beulingstraat 11 .
- Westerkerk Church at Prinsengracht which has free organ concerts every Friday at 1PM.
- Friday night skate Put on your skates, and join the popular weekly skate tour (since 1997), a different route every week.
- NEMO Panorama terrace During summer the Nemo Science museum has a panorama roof terrace on its roof with deckchairs with free entry.
- OBA Amsterdam’s Public Library – Read newspapers and magazines or relax at Amsterdam’s main library at Oosterdokskade. The cafe terrace at the top of the building offers the best free view over the city. Internet is no longer free.
- Rijksmuseum garden a curious collection of architecture, free entrance during museum opening times.
- Stadsarchief The city’s archive on Vijzelstaat often has free exhibitions.
- The Schuttersgallerij (Civic Guards Gallery) is a hidden passageway filled with 15 enormous 17th-century paintings; entrance is free to the public during museum hours. Known as the Schuttersgalerij (Civic Guards’ Gallery), the collection features massive and meticulously realistic portraits of wealthy citizens from the Dutch Golden Age, the same class of subjects Rembrandt depicted in the most famous of Civic Guard paintings, “Nightwatch”. You can find it just inside the arched gateway to the Amsterdam Museum at Kalverstraat 92.
- Vondelpark open-air theatre Open air theatre at the city’s main park running during the summer on Friday evenings, Saturdays and Sundays. Additionally, there are several other festivals in Amsterdam, many of them free, as listed below.
- Bostheater open-air theatre Open air theatre at the Amsterdam forrest, on sundays often free karaoke parties are thrown. If you take some food you can use their BBQ to grill your food for free.
Amsterdam is a cultural haven with year-round festivals for every pocket. At crowded festivals, watch out for pickpockets…
- Realism Art Fair: A lively art fair in one big hall of the Passenger Terminal Amsterdam, dedicated exclusively to figurative art.
- Amsterdam International Fashion Week: showing new fashion collections and a whole range of events like fashion photography exhibitions, museum exhibits about clothing, meetings of retailers and parties.
- Chinese New Year: Festival through Zeedijk and China town.
- Pink Film Days: 10 days of LGBTQ films and debates.
- King’s Day: (27 April, unless 27th falls on a Sunday, then it’s 26 April): The national holiday, nominally in celebration of the King’s birthday is hard to describe to anyone who’s never been there. The city turns into one giant mass of orange-dressed people (Amsterdam locals, and another 1 million or so from throughout the country visit the parties in the city) with flea markets, bands playing, and many on-street parties, ranging from small cafes placing a few kegs of beer outside to huge open-air stages hosting world-famous DJ’s. The Vondelpark is the place for children selling and performing. An experience you’ll never forget. (BEWARE: it is VERY crowded on this day, so mind your purse/wallet. Also be aware that your cell phone will be useless for most of that day as the cell network is guaranteed to break down (for both voice and data) around noon and most of the afternoon. If you want to meet up with people, schedule things beforehand. If you do not like crowds, go out of the city.)
- Taste of Amsterdam: A culinary festival where you can explore the food of famous Amsterdam restaurants and their chefs.
- Art Amsterdam: a modern art fair in the RAI exhibition and conference centre. If you want to know what the latest developments are in Dutch galleries, this is where to find them all in one place.
- Tulip festival:Every year thousands of people come to see the tulip fields of the Noordoostpolder. The tulip bulbs that were planted a few months ago, have now transformed acres of land into a colorful spectacle.
- Holland Festival: famous around the world, this Netherlands performing arts festival brings events from all over the world on the fields of music, opera, theatre and dance.
- The Open Garden Days: Normally you can see only the front of the canal houses, but during the Open Garden Days you get to go past the entrance and see the green world behind them, many times bigger than you would have expected. You can buy one ticket that gives you entry to all participating gardens, and there is a special canal boat to take you from one location to another.
- Amsterdam Roots Festival: an open-air (free) festival with music from non-western countries accompanied by paid film and theatre performances in the theatres of surrounding area.
- Julidans (July Dance): International Contemporary Dance Festival, always showing the latest developments in modern dance.
- Vondelpark Open Air Theatre: This free festival offers many different performances every day. Go to the open air theatre just by the fountain and let the entertainment do the work. From cabaret to drama to concerts to dance, there is something here for everyone and of all ages.
- Amsterdam International Fashion Week: Twice a year, this event presents young and upcoming fashion in Europe and with a focus on Dutch design.
- Robeco SummerNights: two months filled with affordable and special concerts, taking place at the prestigious Royal Concertgebouw. Genres range from Classical music to Pop and Jazz. The breathtaking Mirror Hall is transformed into the Robeco Summer Restaurant, offering 3-course gourmet dinners before concerts in the Main Hall. One of many special events, ‘SummerNights Live!’, offers the opportunity to meet-and-greet musicians after the concert.
- De Parade: Martin Luther King Park. Circus turns vintage, on an old-fashioned fairground with many different tents, the performers are each trying to attract their public, featuring spectacles of dance, theatre, magic, art, animation and music.
- Gay Pride: Amsterdam gay pride on the first weekend in August. One of the biggest festivals in Amsterdam with parties, performances, workshops and a boat parade on the Prinsengracht on Saturday afternoon which is always well worth seeing.
- Prinsengracht concert: third weekend of August each year. A free open-air classical music concert is held every year on a stage in the middle of the Prinsengracht canal. If you have a little boat, join the crowds and make sure to bring your rose wine or prosecco for full enjoyment.
- Sail Amsterdam: tall-ships from all over the world come to visit the Amsterdam harbour every 5 years, the next time in 2015.
- Uitmarkt: The opening of the cultural season in the last weekend of August, it offers a taste of the year to come with 30 min performances at different theaters, an extensive book market and many open-air concerts. All free.
- Jordaan Festival: A big inner city street festival celebrating the diversity of this former working class district. Features can include drum bands, a children’s festival, opera and cabaret, a boules competition, a flea market and an auction.
- Robodock arts festival: A unique festival presenting contemporary art shows in the huge, old NDSM shipyard depot, in the Amsterdam North. The atmosphere is rough, industrial, experimental. A lot of loud music, fire, smoke, noise and heavy machinery are usually elements of these performances.
- National Restaurant Week: Two times a year, participating restaurants offer a full 3 course dinner for a mere €25 (excl drinks), allowing you to experiment a different restaurant for a change or a chance to eat affordably at one of the famous 5-star restaurants.
- Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE): Usually held during the second last weekend in October, this electronic music annual festival gathers cream of the crop faces from the house and techno scenes. Buy your tickets in advance to avoid paying more at the door and queueing for hours on. Besides partying for four nights in a row, the conference offers workshops, seminars, presentations etc.
- Amsterdam Marathon: Tens of thousands of participants run through the city, including the tunnel underneath Rijksmuseum.
- Museum Night – Museumnacht: Long before the film came out, this night at the museum attracts new crowds at the traditional Amsterdam museums with special performances at unusual locations. Do as the locals do and hire a bike to go from one place to the other.
- pAn Amsterdam – Art and Antique Fair: Third week of November. The biggest national art and antiques fair in the Netherlands.
- IDFA – International Documentary Filmfestival of Amsterdam : screening some 200 documentary films and videos, and debates are being held.
- Amsterdam light festival: Streets and canals decorated with lights, special boat tours, Christmas canal parade.
Amsterdam has a range of unique cultural backdrops that appeal to travelling photographers, from its unique architecture to urban street scenes and picturesque canals.
Amsterdam has amazing theatres to attract and entertain visitors from around the world.